An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Dan Benedetti '01: Pediatric Oncologist

Grieving parents want information, says Dan Benedetti ’01, whose job involves some of life’s hardest and most hopeful conversations.

Pediatric Oncologist | Monroe Carell Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tenn.

May 2019

By Jim Collins


an Benedetti has sweet memories of being a young boy visiting his father’s office at the University of Washington Medical Center and eating jelly beans from a jar on his dad’s desk. Thomas Benedetti was a UW professor in obstetrics and gynecology. Dan’s mom, Jacqueline, taught biostatistics at UW and worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Maybe medicine was in his blood.

He followed his parents to UW, completed his residency training in pediatrics at Seattle Children’s, and later earned a second degree at UW, as well: a master’s in bioethics. Now married to Kaci Callahan Benedetti ’02, Dan works in the children’s hospital at Vanderbilt. His academic interests, as his professional bio states, “lie at the intersection of bioethics and pediatric oncology, including complex decision making and conflicts over treatment decisions for pediatric cancer patients.” At work, he wears a Sonics lanyard to remind him of home.

“The arc across all parenting is the change in where we turn for information. It used to be clergy, grandparents, family doctors, all trusted for their wisdom and expertise. Now, people go to Google and follow it down whatever rabbit holes it leads them. As a result, those of us in the medical field are seeing more and more people coming in with deep skepticism and already-formed (often misinformed) opinions.”

“It’s natural for parents to want to shelter their children from bad news, thinking it will scare them. But most children actually don’t have preconceived fears about things like ‘cancer.’ It’s important to tell them right away that they are sick, and that they will need to be treated to get better.”

“Parents who are scared crave information. I try to caution them to hold off searching the internet for answers, to not get out too far in front of the information we have. But if they must go online, I suggest they start with the patient information on the National Cancer Institute’s website, That’s a fair, reliable source.”

“People who have just heard the most terrible news imaginable need to focus on themselves and their child. A lot of people with good intentions will want to try being there for you and offer their support, not realizing they are adding to your burden. Pick one trusted friend or relative who you can tell everything to, and have everyone else go to that person for updates. Tell people you will re-engage with them once you’ve gotten some space and can breathe again.”